Coming into the 2019-2020 NBA season not a lot is sure for the Thunder franchise. One thing that does seem pretty certain though is that they’ll likely be an active participant in the trade market given the newly started rebuild and some of the veteran talent the team can offer. To add the Thunder start the season just a hair over the luxury tax (about $900000 by Keith Smith’s salary cap sheets) and have no reason to remain so. Given that the team has a lot to offer up for bidders, from big contracts to small and from good players to…well not so good. Since there is such a variance the following are how I’d say some of the players the Thunder have stack up in terms of trade value.
Tier 1: Long term salaries
Sub-tier 1.1: HE’S PAID WHAT!?!?
Also known as Chris Paul. Paul is a likely top-25 player and has the tenth largest contract of any NBA player. To add to it, he’s on the downside of the aging curve and hasn’t played more than 61 games the last three seasons. And the season before that? Yeah, he got hurt and missed the last two playoff games as the Clippers were eliminated. He hasn’t been the picture of health.
Given these concerns, Paul’s market is pretty limited. He’s going to need a team that has contracts to send back to match salary, who has a desire to win now, and who might be able to convince themselves he’s going to make a significant difference for them in the near future. This would probably limit it to a very select few teams who wouldn’t offer much of any real value other than salary relief unless Sam Presti really works some magic or takes back long term money in return.
The only teams I could consider falling into a deal for Paul are the Heat (who’ve been heavily rumored) or maybe the Magic or Timberwolves if they get desperate. I’d certainly take Miami’s shorter contracts in exchange for getting off the longer term salary, and definitely wouldn’t mind something from Orlando built around Evan Fournier/D.J. Augustin/Markelle Fultz or similar. Would Presti consider the oft-mentioned Andrew Wiggins-for-Paul swap as well? (Please no.) Would the Wolves consider something built around Jeff Teague and Gogui Dieng? Heck, if they’d toss in a couple second round picks just to give some perceived value I’d be all for it.
In the end the real hope is to move Paul without having to give up assets, and Presti certainly won’t be willing to do that at this point in the rebuild. For that reason I think he sticks out the season in OKC.
Sub-tier 1.2: Useful but overpaid
Another one player sub-tier, this one occupied by Steven Adams. Adams is a leser player than Paul, but he’s also paid quite a bit less, is younger, and more durable. Therefore the margin between his actual value and his contract is much smaller. He’s the sort of player a team like the Clippers or Celtics would love as a true difference maker. He’s overpaid by something like $5-8 million a year, a lot but not such a gap as to negate any value. I could see Adams retrieve actual value in a trade, and for that reason he’s more likely than Paul to be traded (even if I don’t think either is terribly likely). Something around the range of another overpaid role player with a pick and/or young player should get a deal done pretty readily. Boston could make salary work with Gordon Hayward or, for a different landing spot, he’d look pretty solid helping out Atlanta’s defense. Would the Hawks move some bad expiring money and a later first-rounder if they’d rather not play the free agency game?
Sub-tier 1.3: Yuck
Then there’s the last one player sub-tier, reserved for Dennis Schroder. Schroder was paid off of a solid postseason in Atlanta and quickly became a bad value. He’s not a starting caliber point guard on even a mediocre team and is best served as a backup. Even in that role he struggles with tunnel vision, middling efficiency and poor defense. Strangely enough, some people do talk as if a team could talk themselves into him, but paying $15.5 million a year for this doesn’t sound appealing to me:
If Presti can just get someone to take his money away it’s a win, but given how he was valued when he was traded to OKC I could even see a team valuing his counting stats and giving a small asset if the Thunder take back some salary. Or maybe they could swap him out for an expiring? A team like Dallas taking him back for Courtney Lee gets OKC out of a year of paying Schroder and cuts a touch of salary this year as well.
Tier 2: Expirings
Now we get to one or two players likely gone this season. Danillo Gallinari is almost certainly going to be off the Thunder by the deadline, and should be by far the most valuable of the available players. He’s coming off a career year where he was the best player on a playoff team and also had one of his healthier seasons. As an expiring contract, the risk isn’t incredibly high as his new team wouldn’t be stuck with longer term money, and he brings incredible spacing from the power forward position. Gallinari should be able to fetch a first round pick from any contender pretty easily, doubling as a quick and clean way to shed some salary if the Thunder can take back a little less in return.
I’d suggest the Trailblazers as an interested party, and could see the Heat inquire if they’d rather upgrade their forward rotation and not spend money long term on Chris Paul. Or the Suns (who honestly nobody knows what they’re going to do). Phoenix fans always seem interested in Blake Griffin or Kevin Love, why not a shooting forward who’s got a much friendlier contract than either of those options? An easy swap of Tyler Johnson (or Dario Saric and Kelly Oubre, Jr.) plus a first round pick likely gets Presti to pull the trigger.
Another alternative after January 14th, 2020 would be Gallinari and Schroder for Johnson, Oubre, and a first, again shedding salary while picking up an asset.
The question mark in this tier is a player I’d have thought a year ago would have similar value by now. Andre Roberson was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year honors 21 months ago when he got injured. At that point LeBron James was still a Cavalier, Blake Griffin a Clipper, and the entire Kawhi Leonard saga hadn’t taken place. He was projected to return early last season before a setback. Then another, then another. As I write this, he was just held out of all preseason games and I’m not entirely convinced he still exists. How surprised would you be if you saw him at the arena looking like this?
At this point, given his health, it’s tough to imagine Roberson has any value at all other than to help match salary.
Tier 3: Small salary role players/salary filler
I don’t really think there’s much value here. The group of Nerlens Noel, Mike Muscala, and Justin Patton have limited to no trade value. Of the three, only Noel could possibly fetch a second round pick. Otherwise these players could also become salary filler in a bigger trade, or fodder to offload if OKC ends up a hair over the tax, but that’s it.
Tier 4: Young prospects
Sub-Tier 4.1: Probably worth more to the Thunder than another team
Most of the Thunder’s prospects are here. They’re either very unproven or very fringe-y players who don’t project to be stars in the future. Darius Bazley is entirely unknown (admittedly I’m a fan, but have no clue what to expect), Terrance Ferguson seems to be a 3-and-D player who’s entirely reliant on others for offensive creation, Hamidou Diallo and Deonte Burton are interesting players who don’t currently have a ton of skill and were in limited in roles last year. Luguentz Dort was an undrafted free agent pickup who I like, but it’s rare that these types of players become true difference makers. Abdel Nader isn’t even really a prospect at age 26. He hasn’t shown he’s even a decent rotation player to this point on either of his teams and is probably on his last real shot in the NBA. I’d be pretty surprised if any of them are traded because I don’t think any other team would value them as highly as the Thunder.
Sub-Tier 4.2: Need a Godfather offer
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Between him being the centerpiece to the start of the rebuild and having the fantastic rookie season he did, it’s tough to even envision a scenario where Gilgeous-Alexander is traded any time soon. Would Presti deal him for Luka Doncic? I’m sure he would, but most likely nobody’s offering that value for him.
The big picture
Looking through all the players on the current roster and trying to figure out who’s going to be around at the end of the season is an oddly difficult exercise for a franchise that’s gone the last nearly ten years with a mostly steady core, but the Thunder are going through a major overhaul. Whether dealt this season or not, I don’t expect hardly any of the players in tiers one through three to be around the next time they see the playoffs.